Childhood neglect by definition is a form of child abuse. It consists of a deficit in meeting a child’s basic needs – including adequate health care, supervision, clothing, nutrition and housing as well as physical, emotional, social, educational and safety needs.
Emotional neglect is a parent’s failure to notice, attend to, or respond appropriately to a child’s feelings. Many parents unintentionally continue a pattern of emotional neglect as they were not appropriately supported themselves when they were children.
Signs you’ve suffered from emotional neglect include:
- lack of trust
- relationship difficulties
- core feelings of being “worthless”
- and trouble regulating emotions
There are many things you can do to start healing these wounds. Here are some places to start:
Begin cultivating a kind inner voice and a sense of worthiness. Research suggests that treating oneself kindly, rather than criticizing oneself, leads to greater willpower and an ability to bounce back from failure more easily. Luckily, it’s a skill that can be taught and cultivated over time.
Here is a free self-compassion toolkit to get you started. You can also take this self-compassion quiz to see how self-compassionate you are today and track your improvement.
Working with a therapist or coach one-on-one is another great way to begin healing from childhood pain. While it may feel uncomfortable to revisit painful memories or unearth the past, this is the best way to release old pain.
What you resist, persists
Ignoring your pain does not make it go away. Facing it head on, allowing yourself to feel it while having compassion for your pain and your own inner child is one of the best ways to move forward.
One of my favorite tools involves giving your “little kid” whatever he or she never got. Start by sitting in a quiet, comfortable place or lying in bed at night. Take a few deep breaths and imagine your heart filling up with a beautiful, golden light.
Now, think of a time you felt hurt as a child. See if a specific memory arises. How old were you? What happened? As you think of this painful memory, notice where you feel the pain in your body. Is it in your stomach, neck or chest? What are the little bits in your body doing? Breathe into that area.
Next, take a moment to visualize or imagine the scene that young version of you was in as if it were a play. See the room or people around your little child. Now, pause the scene right at the critical moment – whenever your young self felt the most hurt. And imagine your adult self, you today, walking onto the stage.
You walk right up to the little girl or boy who is you and introduce yourself. Tell them you’re here now, it’s OK – they’re safe. You’re not going to let anything bad happen. Ask her what she needs. Maybe she wants a hug, or to go throw rocks out a window and shatter some glass … whatever it is, don’t judge, simply do that thing for your inner child.
Spend five to ten minutes with your inner child – comforting her, playing with her, telling her you love her and that she’s safe. Then, bring the visit to a close by telling her you can come back and visit anytime. You can do this practice as often as you’d like.
When I was doing deep healing work on my own inner child, I would visit her almost every night for several weeks. It was an incredibly powerful experience. At first, she was very angry and just wanted to go throw rocks over a cliff or color with crayons all over things. But gradually she relaxed and eventually, we ended up swimming in this beautiful healing lake with pink crystals at the bottom. You just never know where your mind will take you on these healing visualizations! See if you can relax and enjoy the experience.
There are several practices you can use to heal your inner child. This book includes instructions on how to comfort your inner child. Or you can try a guided meditation like this one to heal and befriend painful feelings.